Awami League had spoken of strengthening the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). While this commission occasionally nabs a few of the lesser corrupt elements, the big fish remain out of reach
Section 3.1 of that manifesto has stated: Over the past 10 years the Jatiya Sangsad (national parliament) had been the centre of all state activities. If we are elected by the votes of the people, we will further strengthen the ongoing process of institutionalising democracy. Initiative will be taken to make the parliament more effective. Efforts will also continue to further strengthen the human rights commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission, the media and the judiciary.
However, over the past three years there have been no signs of democracy being institutionalised or the Jatiya Sangsad being rendered more effective. I recall, after the fall of autocracy in 1990 when there were no private TV channels, people would even throng the streets to listen to the live broadcast of the parliament session proceedings over the state-owned radio. Drivers would even stop their cars to listen to the debates. The people now no longer have any interest in the Jatiya Sangsad debates. It is our political leadership who has brought things to this point.
In its manifesto, Awami League had spoken of strengthening the human rights commission. Over the past decade or so, the human rights commission has been reduced to a meaningless institution. When Professor Mizanur Rahman had been chairman, the commission did make some noise over certain issues. It is now completely silent. Awami League had spoken of strengthening the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). While this commission occasionally nabs a few of the lesser corrupt elements, the big fish remain out of reach.
Section 3.2 to the manifesto said: Alongside establishing human rights for all, any attempts to violate human rights will be resisted. The United States has imposed sanctions on RAB and seven of its present and past officials for enforced disappearances and extra judicial killings that have taken place over the past three years. Such sanctions have been unprecedented in Bangladesh. I leave it to the Awami League leaders to judge whether this has brightened the image of the country or tarnished it.
The Awami League manifesto spoke of continuing the drive against militancy, drugs and corruption and of adopting a policy of zero-tolerance against corruption. They spoke of using advanced data and technology to gradually bring the level of corruption down to nil. The implementation of this policy has not been visible whatsoever over the past three years. Even the most die-hard supporter of the government will not say that corruption has decreased in this time.
When ACC official Md Sharif Uddin started investigating corruption related to land acquisition in three projects of the government, his life was threatened. And rather than providing him with any form of protection, the ACC chairman sacked him. There is an ongoing debate within the government as to who is more corrupt, the politicians or the civil servants. According to information provided by the foreign minister, it is a higher number of bureaucrats that have second homes in Canada.
Section 3.6 of the manifesto stated that terrorism, militancy, communalism and narcotics would be uprooted. The government has been successful in uprooting militancy. They really displayed zero tolerance in this regard. Internationally too, militancy has weakened. But there has been no reflection of zero tolerance against terror and drugs. Many persons were killed in 'gunfights' in the name of the drive against narcotics, but later these persons were found to be innocent. Even if they were criminals, they should be tried at first and then punished. Before the killing of retired army major Sinha came to light, the law enforcement agencies didn't even acknowledge that extrajudicial killings took place. Such 'gunfights' have considerably decreased after the Sinha killing.
It is getting harder and harder to practice journalism, let alone investigative journalism. Whatever little scope the government created to collect information by means of the Right to Information Act, was snatched away a multiple times more by the Digital Security Act
The Awami League manifesto said that 12.80 million jobs would be created in five years. That would mean, about 8 million jobs should have been created in three years. According to economists, not more than 700,000 to 800,000 persons get jobs per year. The largest segment of the population in the country now is the unemployed. On top of that, a section of the meritorious students who have passed the BCS exam for government service, have not been given jobs on political grounds. This is certain a stroke of cruelty against these meritorious young people.
The manifesto also said that initiative would be taken to implement the clauses of the Chittagong Hill Tracts peace accord that hadn't been implemented. The deal was signed on 2 December 1997 and so far the government's efforts in this regard have been restricted to taking initiative. The land commission formed to resolve the land ownership complications, hasn't started work as yet. The minority commission promised by Awami League hasn't materialised as yet, nor have the laws that discriminate against the minority and ethnic communities been annulled.
Section 3.3 of the manifesto speaks of encouraging journalists to take up investigative journalism, of providing journalists with training as well as protection for them to carry out their professional duties and to formulate a media-friendly law. The party in its manifesto had also pledged not to misuse any law against the media.
But in reality, as the days go by it is getting harder and harder to practice journalism, let alone investigative journalism. Whatever little scope the government created to collect information by means of the Right to Information Act, was snatched away a multiple times more by the Digital Security Act. While it was said that this law was enacted for the sake of digital security, it is actually being used mostly against journalists. The government's treatment of investigative journalists is evident in how Prothom Alo's senior reporter Rozina Islam was detained at the health ministry for three hours, harassed and charged under the Official Secrets Act.
It cannot be denied that the government has shown a lot of success in the economic sector. There are many mega projects underway including the Padma bridge project. Pragmatic plans and policies also made it possible to overcome the pandemic to a great extent. But democracy, the mainstay of a democratic state, is gradually falling behind. The state institutions have weakened further. The election system has crumbled. This, perhaps, is Awami League's biggest breach of its commitment.
* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be contacted at [email protected]
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten by Ayesha Kabir for the English edition.